Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 47/2021 – Week of December 6-12

Greetings from The 88 Project. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of December 6-12.

The upcoming two weeks will be extremely hectic, not because of the holidays but because of multiple trials of high-profile activists in rapid succession. It appears the government wants to close the books before 2022 arrives, although at least one trial has been postponed to the last day of the year due to scheduling conflicts. Multiple year-end reports on human rights have been published by various organizations; they are highlighted in the Advocacy section and are well worth a read. A spat between Vietnam and Cambodia over Covid causes a diplomatic row. A Facebook whistleblower is urged to release more information to the public. A prisoner on death row for 12 years got a last minute reprieve (again) as more evidence of wrongful prosecution emerged.

Political Prisoners


Top row: Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam, bottom: Pham Doan Trang and Do Nam Trung

Family of journalist Pham Doan Trang was once again denied permission to visit her. Trang was arrested in October 2020, and her family has not been allowed to see her since then. She has been seen by a doctor but she has not received any treatment. Letters from well wishers have also been withheld from her. Her trial will take place December 14. She has been charged with conducting “anti-state propaganda.”

On December 15, Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam will be put on trial also for “anti-state propaganda” under Article 117. Neither one has been allowed to see their family since their arrests in June 2020 — a clear and blatant violation of Vietnamese law.

Do Nam Trung’s lawyer has met him twice and reported that Trung is healthy and mentally strong. The lawyer said he was able to access all the documents related to the case without any harassment. Thirteen of 16 video clips which were to be used as evidence of his spreading “anti-state propaganda” were deemed non-admissible by investigators. His trial date is December 16; if convicted, Trung could face a minimum of five years in prison.

Le Trong Hung

Le Trong Hung’s trial, also scheduled for December 16, has been delayed until December 31, according to his wife Do Le Na, who was notified of the change by Hung’s lawyer. The reason given was scheduling conflicts.

Hoang Duc Binh

Hoang Duc Binh was allowed to call home on Human Rights Day. His mother reported that his health is weak because he has not been eating prison food.

Huynh Thuc Vy

Huynh Thuc Vy, who was arrested almost two weeks ago, still has not been allowed any phone calls. Huynh Ngoc Tuan, her father, who was a political prisoner for 10 years, reported that prison officials did not allow him to see Vy. When he told them he wanted to give her 6 million dong, they made him break it up into six different amounts with six separate invoices: one for 3 million dong, one for 1 million dong, and four each for 500,000 dong!

This week, we think of the arrest and trial anniversaries of the following political prisoners:

  • Journalist and member of the Bao Sach (Clean News) group, Truong Chau Huu Danh, arrested on December 17, 2020, and sentenced to four and a half years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms”
  • Brotherhood for Democracy member Tran Duc Thach, tried on December 15, 2020, and sentenced to 12 years in prison for alleged “subversion”
  • Military veterans and democracy activists Tran Anh Kim and Le Thanh Tung, tried on December 16, 2016, and sentenced to 13 and 12 years in prison respectively on charges of “subversion”

International Advocacy

The 88 Project has joined 20 other organizations in calling for Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, to release her dossier of information and hold a public discussion on human rights in digital spaces. 

Ahead of the Human Rights Dialogue between Australia and Vietnam, Human Rights Watch and other campaigners are urging the Australian government to press for the release of Chau Van Kham, a baker from Sydney currently serving a 12-year sentence on “terrorism” charges. 

CIVICUS’ year-end report on the status of Human Rights Defenders warns that detention of human rights defenders is on the rise worldwide, and that the problem has beenexacerbated by Covid. It calls out Vietnam as an egregious offender that relies on the vague Article 117 (anti-state propaganda) to jail anyone who criticizes the government.

In a Q&A session, UNDP Representative Caitlin Wiesen commends Vietnam’s efforts in the mid-term Universal Periodic Review but cautions that major gaps still remain. She also believes Vietnam should be voted into the Human Rights Council for 2023-2025 because that seat “comes with responsibilities to move beyond reporting on human rights instruments to showing evidence of implementation of recommendations received.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists has published its 2021 report on press freedom around the world. The situation, in a word, is “bleak.” Covid and climate change concerns preoccupy most governments, emboldening authoritarian regimes to increase abusive practices. Myanmar shot up to number two on the list of worst offenders while Vietnam rounds out the top five.


Vietnamese refugee abandons fight against deportation after 27 years behind bars in Hong Kong, Selina Cheng, Hong Kong Free Press, December 4, 2021: “I’m exhausted in my body and my soul. I’m already 42, 43 years old, and have been in prison ever since I arrived to Hong Kong. I long to be free one day, and see the colour of the sky. I am thankful for God’s blessing, as he has arranged a friend for me to help me leave this sorrowful place of despair, so that I can see the sky. Seeing the sky is the most significant thing in life. Although I don’t yet know where to go or what to do, with my friend’s help and with freedom, I believe I can assimilate quickly into society again. Freedom – this word represents something I most long for. I will cherish the remaining days in my life.”

Cambodian PM blasts Vietnam general over Covid claims, Mom Kunthear, The Phnom Penh Post, December 6, 2021: “Prime Minister Hun Sen on December 6 expressed dismay after Vietnamese general Hoang Xuan Chien, formerly in charge of Vietnam’s border defences, claimed that Cambodia was a source of Covid-19 transmissions to the country. Speaking at the opening ceremony for National Road 11 connecting Prey Veng to Tbong Khmum provinces, Hun Sen said Chien, now serving as Vietnam’s deputy minister of national defence, made the “unacceptable” remarks during an unspecified conference on March 10.”

Vietnam’s Communist Party Jails its Most Trenchant Critic, David Brown, Asia Sentinel, December 8, 2021: “On her return to Vietnam, the police now singled out Trang for special attention. They would follow her, harangue her, and detain her when she was invited to meet foreign visitors, famously including US President Barack Obama. The tide was turning against what was now called the Democracy Movement. At a congress late in 2016, the Communist Party chose leaders who were intent on cleansing Vietnam’s public space of what they perceived as rabble-rousers. The national police were unleashed; within a few years, the number of activists in detention tripled. Thousands of draftees were assigned to troll social media and, one by one, to pick off dissident bloggers. Rather than lose a lucrative advertising market, Facebook and YouTube caved to regime demands that it, not they, would decide which posts were unacceptable. When the police finally came for Trang in October 2020, Vietnam’s Democracy Movement had become a raggle-taggle band that’s oddly obsessed by Trumpism and verges on irrelevance.” (Vietnamese version here.)

Report Documents Continued Narrowing of Political Space in the Asia-Pacific, Sebastian Strangio, The Diplomat, December 8, 2021: “The group’s annual report monitors respect for fundamental freedoms in 196 countries, grouping them into one of five categories: ‘open,’ ‘narrowed,’ ‘obstructed,’ ‘repressed,’ or ‘closed.’ In total, the report claims, just 3.1 percent of the world’s population lives in countries rated as ‘open.’ The Asia-Pacific section of the report is characteristic of its findings. Of the 26 Asian countries and territories tracked by the CIVICUS Monitor, only Taiwan was rated ‘open.’ Eleven were rated as ‘repressed,’ seven as ‘obstructed,’ four as ‘narrowed,’ and four – China, Vietnam, Laos, and North Korea – as ‘closed.’”

Ho Duy Hai’s Execution Halted, Son Nguyen, The Vietnamese, December 4, 2021: “Ho Duy Hai vividly remains one of the faces of the wrongful death-row inmates in Vietnam that the world recognizes. Amnesty International continued to follow his case and ACAT-France also joined to call for his release with some campaigns in the last few years. In 2020, the Supreme People’s Procuracy of Vietnam determined that the case suffered from “serious procedural proceedings” and requested a cassation trial for Ho Duy Hai. However, the Judicial Committee of the Supreme People’s Court of Vietnam reaffirmed the lower court’s decision and sentenced Ho Duy Hai to death again on May 8, 2020, denying the petition for a cassation trial.”


For this year’s Human Rights Day (December 10), The 88 Project published an article about important stories and trends in Vietnam. The article gives a good overview of the current situation as we head into the new year. How Did Vietnam Do On Human Rights In 2021?


Don’t miss this webinar on social media impact on digital freedom and democracy in Asia on December 17.  It starts at 9 PM Singapore time. The 88 Project’s representative will be a guest speaker on Vietnam. Register here.  


Take action this week with The 88 Project, The Vietnamese Magazine, and Luat Khoa Magazine by sending a note of support to jailed journalist Pham Doan Trang ahead of her trial next week. Trang has been detained for over a year and is still being denied visits from her family. You can also watch and share this interview with Trang, filmed shortly before her arrest. 

Please also share your support for Trinh Ba Phuong ahead of his trial by watching and sharing this statement from Phuong’s wife, Thu Do, in which she describes the difficulties of supporting her family after Phuong’s arrest and also calls for international support for his release from prison. Listen to Phuong in his own words, before his arrest, here.

Lastly, we also have a video interview with Le Trong Hung’s wife, Do Le Na, which can be used to raise awareness of his case ahead of his trial next week.

© 2021 The 88 Project